T.J. Johnson is a long way from home this week, but there are plenty of familiar faces to keep him company.
The former South Carolina center and 10 other ex-Southeastern Conference offensive linemen were in Lucas Oil Stadium on Thursday as the NFL Combine began.
“There are quite a bit of guys I played against so there are a lot of jokes going on so it’s a good time,” Johnson said. “The SEC has some pretty stout competition week in and week out. I feel like I am prepared as good as I could be coming out of college.”
Offensive linemen, quarterbacks, tight ends and kickers started off the media portion of the Combine on Thursday, and the remainder of the position players will filter through Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For Johnson, the rest of the week will be about impressing teams in interviews, on the field and in strength and agility workouts.
Never miss a local story.
“I have (workout) numbers in my head that I want to get,” he said. “I feel like I have trained hard. I am excited for the opportunity to compete, and we’ll see how I do. I am not worried about everybody else, I am just here to do my best. If I do my best, I think everything will fall into place.”
Johnson, who measured 6-foot-4, 310 pounds here, started all 53 games of his South Carolina career.
“I take a lot of pride in that, that’s one of the biggest accomplishments of my career,” he said.
That experience helps offset concerns scouts have about Johnson’s readiness for the NFL, such as hand placement and quickness, but it’s unclear if he’ll be selected in April’s NFL Draft or be signed after the draft as a free agent.
“I have heard a little bit of everything, so we’ll see,” said Johnson, who played guard in the East-West all-star game and expressed a willingness to play either guard or center in the NFL. “I don’t have any idea. I just want to get picked up.”
Johnson, who has worked out at CES in Atlanta since leaving South Carolina following the Outback Bowl, could push himself into the draft with an impressive performance here this week.
“I had always had dreams of being here,” Johnson said. “I guess once I started as a freshman, you start making your goals out for the rest of your life and that’s when I started thinking about wanting to be (in a position to play in the NFL).”
Johnson talked to former South Carolina teammate Travian Robertson to help prepare for this week’s Combine. Robertson came to Indianapolis last year in much the same position Johnson is in this year, with hopes but no guarantee of being drafted. Robertson was picked in the seventh and final round by the Atlanta Falcons and made the team this year.
“This is the beginning of a dream come true,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting to be here, and I’m trying to soak it all in, and I am enjoying the experience. I am trying to sit back and relax and enjoy the ride. I am ready to test and get all that out of the way.”